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World - Americas

Cuban doctors arrive in Nicaragua to help hurricane victims

November 21, 1998
Web posted at: 10:32 p.m. EST (0332 GMT)

MANAGUA, Nicaragua (CNN) -- Six Cuban medical brigades arrived in Nicaragua Saturday to help victims of Hurricane Mitch, after the country's firmly anti-Castro government retreated from an earlier decision not to allow them in.

Abelardo Ramirez, Cuba's vice minister of health, accompanied the delegation. He said the medical collaboration could help ease tensions between the two countries.

"Surely, this could contribute to establishing relations," he said.

The Cuban medical teams will work to prevent and control disease in three hard-hit northern provinces -- Chinandega, Nueva Segovia and Esteli.

Nicaraguan health officials have reported 189 cases of leptospirosis, 700 cases of dengue fever and 305 cases of cholera, leading to at least nine deaths.

Earlier this month, President Fidel Castro pledged to send 2,000 medical personnel to Central American countries devastated by the hurricane.

But Nicaragua's conservative government, led by President Arnoldo Aleman, had rejected Castro's offer, saying the medical teams were unnecessary.

Cuba had been a staunch ally of Nicaragua's Sandinista government, which Aleman opposed and which had imprisoned him. Aleman has also maintained close relations with the Cuban exile community in Miami, which opposes Castro's rule.

But the decision to reject the doctors was sharply criticized within Nicaragua. Some critics noted that even the solidly anti-communist Somoza regime had permitted Cuban doctors to come into Nicaragua after a 1972 earthquake devastated Managua.

Reuters contributed to this report.

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